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Pacific-leading Stars host Northwest-best Canucks

by Brian Hunter /
CANUCKS (22-8-5) at STARS (22-12-4)

TV -- SNET-Pacific (HD), TXA 21 (HD)

Last 10 --
Vancouver 8-0-2; Dallas 5-3-2

Season series --
First of four meetings this season between teams that enter Friday leading in their respective divisions. Vancouver captured three of the matchups on the 2009-10 schedule, with Alexandre Burrows' 3 goals leading all scorers and Roberto Luongo winning all three of his starts. Loui Eriksson and Brad Richards scored 2 goals apiece for Dallas.

Big story --
The Canucks were touted as a Stanley Cup contender heading into this season, so it's no surprise to see them atop the Northwest Division -- although their streak of gaining at least a point in 10 straight games and 14 of their last 15 is still mighty impressive. Not a whole lot was expected of the Stars after consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs, so to see them not only in the race but currently leading in the Pacific has opened plenty of eyes around the NHL.

Team Scope:

Canucks -- While it isn't often that Philadelphia pays a visit to Vancouver, Jan. 18, 1989 was still a long time ago. Prior to Tuesday night, that was the last time the Canucks beat the Flyers on home ice, with the visitors winning 10 games since and tying four others. The streak finally ended as Ryan Kesler scored a pair of goals in a 6-2 win for Vancouver. He and Henrik Sedin each finished the night with 3 points. It was the Canucks' third straight victory.

"I've worked extremely hard," said Kesler, who received an offer sheet from the Flyers prior to the 2006-07 season that the Canucks matched. "I haven't been satisfied since I've been in the league. Every year I want to get better and this year is no different. I want to be a better all-around player, and I think each game I am getting better."

Stars -- This is the second straight game in which Dallas faces a fellow division leader from the West, and the first one didn't go very well. The Stars got off to a great start against the Red Wings on Wednesday, scoring three times in a 74-second span of the middle period to take a 3-1 lead. But then everything fell apart and they allowed six unanswered goals -- including four in the third -- in a 7-3 defeat.

"It was a good game until the third, and that's obviously not the third that we wanted to have," Richards said. "There were some things that we didn't do right. It probably would have been a huge boost to go into the third with a lead, but we gave them the late goal in the second. The third was one of those periods you have to move by because it's not something that happens everyday. It's unfortunate."

Who's hot --
Kesler has 7 goals and 7 assists during an eight-game points streak for the Canucks. Jeff Tambellini has 4 goals and 2 assists during a six-game points streak. Henrik Sedin has 2 goals and 8 assists during a four-game points streak. Daniel Sedin has 3 goals and 4 assists over the last four games. Luongo is 10-1-1 in his last 12 starts, allowing two goals or fewer nine times.

Stars defenseman Mark Fistric has goals in consecutive games, his first two this season. Eriksson has 4 goals and 8 assists in his last eight games. Richards has 5 goals and 3 assists in his last eight games. Jamie Benn has 2 goals and 5 assists in his last six games.

Injury report --
Vancouver could be close to getting forward Mason Raymond back from a broken thumb, while defenseman Sami Salo, who had Achilles surgery during the offseason, has started skating with the team as well. Also out are forwards Guillaume Desbiens (hand), Mason Raymond (hand), Peter Schaefer (undisclosed) and Rick Rypien (personal).

Stat pack -- Kesler now has 19 goals, tying him with Daniel Sedin for the lead on the Canucks. … Richards not only started the Stars' three-goal burst against the Red Wings, he ended a stretch of 102 minutes, 58 seconds in which they hadn't scored at American Airlines Center, dating back to a third-period goal by captain Brenden Morrow on Dec. 23 against the Flames.

Puck drop --
Luongo left the team and headed to Florida for the birth of a son, so Cory Schneider gets the nod in goal for the third time in four games. Schneider is 5-0-2 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.

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